Thoughts and Opportunities from #NPC17 Part I

I had the chance to attend The National Principals Conference that was held in Philadelphia earlier in the Summer. After leaving the conference and reflecting back on everything I heard from all of the great speakers three major trends stood out. Over the three blog posts, I will highlight these three main strands with a hope that you are able to take something away even if you were not able to attend.

Before I get to that I just want to highlight what a great conference it was in Philadelphia. I was able to attend sessions that were facilitated by great thought leaders in the educational and business world. These were highlighted by sessions that included wonderful speakers such as @Jeff_Zoul,  @Joesanfelippofc, @casas_jimmy, @thomascmurray, @E_Sheninger, @tsschmidty, @BethHouf, @burgess_shelley, @Joe_Mazza, @MurphysMusings5, @RossCoops31, @lmstump, @DrBillZiegler, @mccoyderek, @techwnancy, @danpbutler, @dellwein, @kckatalyst, and a few others sprinkled throughout the three days.  I am sure that you follow these awesome educators and thought leaders but if you don’t you are missing out on great learning. If you’ve never had a chance to go to a national conference like this I would extremely recommend that you make that a priority as an educator and as a learner. Summertime is a great time to re-energize and there is nothing better than going to this type of conference.  You are able to connect with people that you’ve never met before. You get to connect with those that you’ve only met on social media.  You also get the opportunity to catch up with old friends.

Strand 1-The 3R’s That Impact School Culture

One of the first strands that stood out for me during the conference was the focus on relationships and school culture.  This is an area that I can improve on in my own practice.  The different sessions I attended all had a piece or the entire presentation dedicated to relationship building.  Relationships directly impact the culture that is created at the school level.  This will be my 4th year as the principal of a middle school and 7th year as a school administrator.  Building positive relationships with every one of my staff members will be my main focus throughout the year and each year after.  I have been able to build great relationships with a large amount of my staff but I still have work to do in this area. This responsibility ultimately comes down to me.  It was great hearing from other leaders that they have made similar mistakes in their own practice.  They shared their stories with large audiences.  In their stories, they shared key learnings and how they were able to persevere.  

A number of ideas that were shared at the conference gave me so much energy that I can’t wait to get the teacher’s back after their well-deserved summer break!  I want to highlight a few of the important messages that will help guide me as we move throughout the year with the hope that any potential leader or teacher will be able to use in their own setting.

Be Present

We are all extremely busy in our everyday jobs.  We all have tasks, deadlines, walk-throughs, evaluations, parent phone calls, students making not-so-great decisions, and the list could go on and on.  We have staff that wants just a minute of our time.  I own that many times we give them the time but we are not really giving them the time.  Our people are the most important asset we have in the building.  We need to make sure that we do everything we can to make every interaction a positive interaction for them.  As leaders, we need to model what we want to happen in our schools and in our classrooms. This is the most important learning I have gained from two highly regarded educational leaders, Todd Whitaker and Jimmy Casas.  They model the behavior that they want their staff to follow.  In the practice of owning my own mistakes, this is something that I plan to make huge improvements on throughout the year.  I want to make sure that my staff knows that I am listening to them and I am hearing what they are saying.  If that means putting down the phone, not responding to an email that instant, or finishing up a task a bit later the payoff with my staff with far outweigh what I might have gotten accomplished.  I am not going to kid anyone, I am the type of person that likes cross items off of a list.  When a task is on my mind I want to accomplish it.  It will be a battle throughout the year to remind myself that these items can wait.  

Make It Personal

We all want our staff to make our students feel like they are the most important person to them each day.  The best teachers get to know their students on an individual basis. This approach needs to be at the forefront of every leader regardless of your position or title.  Each of us wants to feel that we matter in our organization.  Each of us wants to feel like we are making a positive impact in our jobs.  Each one of us wants to feel connected to our school and the individuals that work in the schools.  We spend more time with our work families than we do with our own during the week.  It is a responsibility of a leader to ensure that they connect with their staff members.  This is a specific area that I am continuing to grow in.  As a younger administrator, I have put up barriers and walls for some odd reason.  This has hurt the relationship side of my job and it will be a primary focus throughout this year and every year after.  Moving into this year I am going to try a number of ideas that I have learned throughout the year and specifically from #NPC17.  I did try one approach last year that started the ball rolling with getting to know my staff and having more personal conversations.  The strategy that I started last year that I will continue to do this year is to take my office and move it into open areas.  We were able to design cafe style areas in two parts of our building last year.  I made it a point to sit out in these areas throughout the year to have impromptu conversations with staff members and students walking through the halls.  This is something that I will continue to do throughout the year.  It sparked different conversations that occur in a formal office setting. I was able to learn many new things about my staff that I didn’t know before.  By locating myself to a different location I was able to have different conversations on a more personal level.  We are hoping to design similar areas throughout the building that will help prompt more informal conversations as we move through each school day.  I highly recommend that if you are able to move out to an informal area I promise that it will spark more personal conversations with your teaching staff.  

One of the sessions I attended highlighted one approach I am going to try out this year.  The session was facilitated @danpbutler @benjamingilpin.  The one approach that Ben discussed helped him organize and gain information about his staff that he is constantly updating to keep current.  I really liked this idea, especially when you have a staff of over 100 people.  I taught 120 students every single year.  I made it a priority to learn information about these students as people and as learners, each year in order to be effective There isn’t a good reason as to why we can’t learn that type of information about our staff members.

Build Community Every Day with Everyone

Every interaction that you have with someone is an opportunity to build community. Building a strong community will make a positive impact on the culture of your building. This is probably the easiest task that we have each day as school leaders.  We have the opportunity to have positive interactions each day with students, staff members, parents, and community members.  We must take advantage of these interactions and build community every time, every day.  Examples that we have used in our own building are thank you cards that are put in mailboxes each month for staff members to give to others.  Another example to build community is a question board in our copy room.  We post a new question every few weeks and staff members have the opportunity to record an answer.  We are able to learn about each other throughout the year and see common connections that we may not have known about.  We will continue these community building activities throughout the year along with incorporating new ones.  I heard new ideas throughout the conference such as calling your staff members family and thanking them for allowing them to work in the building. Another great idea that I learned about dealt with summer mailings.  The idea was to send a summer thank you card to the emergency contact of your staff member and again thanking them for the service of the teacher.  Think about the reaction that you would get if your family member received a thank you card from boss.  We are looking at easy ways to thank staff members and build a stronger community throughout the year.  We will be trying out a few new ideas such as giving out swag, free jeans day coupons, coverage time, 15-minute free cards, coffee, tea, food, etc.  These little things go a long way with building a positive community.  I hope that these strategies transition into the classroom for kids.  Not because they did a homework assignment but just because we are thankful they are in class.

As I think about my upcoming school year, welcoming back my staff, and planning for our year together I am looking forward to being present with each interaction.  I am excited to learn about each one of my staff members on a personal level.  We want to build community with each interaction.  By doing these three items I am can’t wait to see where our building is at the end of the year as it relates to school culture.  If you have any great strategies or ideas to share please reach out and connect!

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